Visit just about any pizza parlor or casual Italian eatery in the United States. You’ll find a jar of crushed red pepper flakes on the table alongside the salt and pepper. This “pizza pepper” may come to mind when you hear the phrase “red chili flakes” or “crushed red pepper.” But the Sichuan chili flakes in our spice cabinet are a whole different ball game. Many of our favorite recipes simply wouldn’t be the same without them.
Let’s talk more about what this ingredient is, and how to use it.
What Are Sichuan Chili Flakes?
Chinese Sichuan chili flakes, or làjiāo fēn (辣椒芬), start out as spicy red chili peppers. Varieties include small “Facing Heaven” peppers (named for how they grow pointed skyward) or the slightly milder er jin tiao peppers popular in Sichuan Province.
After frying the chilies until crisp, they then get crushed into a flaky seasoning, seeds and all.
The seeds of a chili pepper are a main source of its heat, so make no mistake: this spice can pack a punch. Adding a dash or two is a quick way to crank up the heat of a recipe.
However, Sichuan chili flakes do tend to be a bit milder than standard Italian crushed red pepper. They’re also more vividly red and aromatic. (Think: the nuttiness of popcorn.) This is key for some of their most common applications.
How To Use Them
While they make a great seasoning on their own, Sichuan chili flakes are also essential to Chili Oil. We have no shame in how much we use this stuff! We sometimes use both chili oil and Sichuan chili flakes to spice up recipes like our Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup.
In addition to making chili oil, they are also critical to Chiu Chow Chili Sauce. With plenty of garlic, soy sauce, and sugar to balance out the heat, it can turn any dish into something extraordinary.
Naturally, red chili flakes also show up in countless classic Sichuan dishes. Some examples include Suan Ni Bai Rou (sliced pork with garlic sauce) and Sichuan Boiled Beef, which is incredibly delicious despite its ho-hum name.
Our recipe for Kou Shui Ji (literally “saliva chicken” because of how mouth-wateringly delicious it is) is not quite as spicy as the version you’d find in Sichuan Province. But it still serves up that distinctive ma la (spicy-numbing) flavor profile thanks to the combination of chili and Sichuan peppercorns.
Red chili flakes, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and cumin also form the trifecta of Xinjiang spices. These flavors are perfect for everything from Spicy Fried Chicken Wings to Cumin Lamb Burgers and our great vegan/vegetarian alternative, Cumin Potatoes.
Buying & Storing
When you open a fresh package, transfer them to an airtight container for long-term storage.
When properly stored in a cool, dry place (like your pantry), they will last for two to three years.
Substitutions for Sichuan Chili Flakes
Italian crushed red pepper can be used in a pinch. However, we’ve found the chilies used for “pizza pepper” are usually roasted longer before crushing.
As a result, Italian crushed red pepper doesn’t offer the vibrant red hue characteristic of the Sichuan version. Cooking them in oil can also result in a slightly burnt taste.
That’s why we definitely suggest sourcing them online if you can!
Our Favorite Recipes That Use This Ingredient
Homemade Chili Oil
Homemade Chiu Chow Chili Sauce
Sichuan Boiled Beef (水煮牛肉 – Shuizhu Niurou)
Spicy Fried Chicken Wings
Lanzhou Beef Noodle Soup
Sichuan Chicken In Chili Oil Sauce (Kou Shui Ji)